Introduction: Making Makers: Create a STEM Scholarship to Inspire the Next Generation of Makers
Want to inspire kids to build arachnoid robots? What about a DIY hovercraft? A shovel guitar? A 3D printed prosthetic hand or quadcopter? These are all projects that students at my old high school submitted to the scholarship I started there! If you start your own STEM scholarship, you can inspire and unleash the creativity of the next generation of makers, and help to start them on their own path of building awesome things!
Chances are if you're browsing Instructables, you at some point had an amazing teacher, parent or mentor that encouraged you to pursue your budding interest in building things. By starting your own STEM scholarship, you can provide some of that same inspiration and encouragement to young makers that are just getting their start in the world of making. Offering a cash prize as part of your scholarship sends a really helpful and positive message to the thinkers of tomorrow (“Hey, if you and follow your passion for building cool stuff, you might just be able to make a living at it!”). This financial boost can also provide some much-needed funding to procure better parts and tools to upgrade the quality of their next project!
Throughout this Instructable, I'll be referencing the scholarship I created at my old high school: the Butwin Elias Science and Technology Award or, the “BEST” award. We have successfully awarded this scholarship for 7 years, and have given out over $20,000 to the students of my old high school! More details on the award and the past winners can be found at www.isemanfoundation.com When I first started the BEST award I gave a talk with my brother at Maker Faire about it and this article gives more details on our thoughts prior to presenting the BEST award for the first time: https://makezine.com/2013/05/20/making-maker-schol...
As a legal note any gift giving that you do through your scholarship it is up to you to ensure that you are following all applicable state and federal laws. This tip sheet from the IRS seems to be a bit helpful https://www.irs.gov/pub/irs-news/at-01-31.pdf
I'm entering this Instructable into the STEM contest so if you enjoy it please vote for me to win!
If this Instructable motivates you to start your own scholarship and you have any questions feel free to reach out to me!
All you really need to give out your own STEM scholarship is:
- A scholarship prize (usually money. Even $100 can mean quite a bit to a high school student)
- An instructables/email account that students can submit their projects to
Additional things that help but are not necessary:
- A website to host details on your scholarship/showcase past winners.
- A 501(c)3 that lets your scholarship donors deduct their contributions and get corporate matches for their donations
- Someone working at the school/organization that you can work with to help coordinate the scholarship.
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Step 1: Figure Out the Format of Your Scholarship
The first step in giving out a STEM scholarship is to figure out what you want the format of the scholarship to be.
For me personally throughout my academic and professional career I've tended to perform my best work during contests. In high school I competed in Science Olympiad and built some pretty awesome robots to compete against other schools at our Science Olympiad events. I took my first steps in building a remotely controlled robot for an instructables contests (I'm still quite proud of Ard-e!). In college I built even more awesome robots as part of an intercollegiate design competition. I'm even writing this instructable because I'm motivated by a contest! I chose to structure the STEM scholarship I give out as similar as possible to the design contests that are offered to college students while also keeping it as accommodating to the varied interests of the students at my old high school as possible. Students that are interested in applying to the BEST award need to complete a STEM project, document it throughly with an instructable and then send me a link to their instructable in order to be eligible to win. The students are free to choose any STEM or even vaguely STEM related project that they are interested in. Students can turn in multiple different projects but are only eligible to win the highest prize that they qualify for. For the BEST award to encourage participation we give at least a $50 participation award to all of the students that successfully turn in a project. We then award progressively higher cash prizes for the 5th through 1st place projects as judged by our judges (more details on judging later).
If you have found contests that highly reward only a few projects aren't quite your thing feel free to structure your award such that everyone that applies gets an equal reward. Or if you don't like the idea of awarding something to everyone that applies feel free to give everything to the top applicant if you want. If you want to encourage younger students feel free to offer a scholarship at the elementary level or to target older students and offer it to college age students! It is your scholarship so structure it how you see fit!
Another important thing to consider is where you will be giving out the award. I chose to give the award out at my old high school because I felt that it would do the most good and have the biggest impact for kids that were just getting interested in science and making things to have this opportunity to earn money from their interests. Also two of the best teachers I've ever had were at my old high school so I figured naming this award after them would be a fitting tribute to how awesome of teachers they were. Mr Sam Elias and Mr George Butwin were hugely influential in my academic career and I wouldn't be where I am today without their guidance and instruction. Mr Elias still works at my old high school and has been extremely helpful in getting students to actually apply for the award.
Check to see if you can find any of your favorite old teachers on facebook and send them a message. If you are active in your church, community group or other organization these are also great to work with to get the word out about your new scholarship. Reach out to the administration of any local school and I'm quite sure that they would be glad to work with you to offer a scholarship to their students!
Step 2: Open the Scholarship Up to Applicants!
Once you have figured out the overall format and where you want to offer your STEM scholarship a great way to commit yourself to actually following through and giving it out is to open it up for students to start working on right away. Knowing that students are actively waiting on you to fundraise and figure out the details of you scholarship is extremely motivating and will ensure that you don't procrastinate it until next year.
For the BEST award we created two documents that we sent to the teachers and guidance counselors at my old high school to distribute to the students that were interested in the scholarship. The first was a general announcement flyer that gave general details about the scholarship (found here) and the second was an application form that the students needed to fill in and return to me in order to apply to the scholarship (found here).
These two documents are all you really need to start your scholarship and to get students to start working on their projects. The things that you want to have nailed down before sending these out are:
- The scholarship requirements. What do students need to turn in order to be eligible for your scholarship?
- The due date. When do students need to turn in their projects? We have been extremely flexible with due dates for students but feel free to enforce deadlines as strictly as you want to.
- How students turn in their projects. Make sure you clearly explain where the students need to turn in their projects. Initially for the BEST award this was just an email address that students would send their completed forms back to but we recently upgraded and have them fill out a web form to apply that automatically collects the data we need from them.
These forms are conveniently vague about how much we actually give out as the prize for the scholarship because that really depends on the next step in this process... fundraising.
Step 3: Fundraise for Your Scholarship
Once you have announced your STEM scholarship and students are ideally hard at work on their projects for it the next step is to make sure you actually have some funds to give out as a prize. If you have a cushy tech job and are earning a bunch you can bankroll your scholarship for less than you usually spend on coffee for a couple of months. If you want to inspire students but lack the funds to bankroll everything yourself you can reach out to friends and family to help you fundraise for it.
Gofundme is a great platform for fundraising for your STEM scholarship since they makes it easy to contact each of your donors and the built in sharing features make it really easy to get the word out. Gofundme takes a percentage of each donation (usually around 7% but that might fluctuate a bit) so direct donations are usually preferred to avoid this fee. Currently we run our fundraising through the Paypal Giving Fund since they do not take a percentage fee of any donations to nonprofits and I was able to register a nonprofit to award the scholarships we give out. If you would like to donate and help the the Iseman Foundation give out even more scholarships please do so at this link: https://www.paypal.com/us/fundraiser/1125746447678...
As a general fundraising strategy we have found it more effective to focus our efforts on a couple of close friends or family member to give a more substantial gift each year rather than trying to get every one of your friends and family members to give a bit. If you end up giving out your scholarship at one of your old alma maters reach out to your close friends and see if they want to help you give out an awesome scholarship to help the current students there!
Step 4: Judge Your Scholarship Submissions
Once you have established the format of you scholarship, announced that you are offering it and fundraised for the prize you plan to award for it the next step is to actually collect the submissions and judge them. If you structure your scholarship so that everyone that applies gets the same reward you can skip this step.
For the BEST award we recently developed a rubric that can be used to evaluate each project on how well if followed the required steps that we outlined in the announcement of the scholarship. This grading rubric can be found here: https://drive.google.com/open?id=1tKHjoWjuVBp76jJn... The individual areas that you focus on in your own scholarship and the weights that you assign to each area are totally up to you! If you want to just go with your gut and pick a single winner based on your subjective assessment of the projects feel free to.
We decided that rather than rely on a single person's opinions of the projects we would aggregate the votes of all of the different judges and award our 1st - 5th place winners based on the results. We created this google form to send to all of the people that donated or actively worked on the award each year to vote on the winners: https://docs.google.com/forms/d/e/1FAIpQLSeNb7H1RS... (we already awarded this forms scholarship so you can fill in the form if you want but it won't actually affect anything).
The form has each judge rank which projects should earn 1st through 5th place then gives each project points based on how the judges rank it. 1st earns 10 points, 2nd 7 points, 3rd 5 points, 4th 3 points and 5th 1 point. The winning projects are then picked based on the total number of points that they earn from the judges. This system has worked quite well for the last couple of years but again it is up to you judge projects for your STEM scholarship however you see fit!
Step 5: Present Your Scholarship!
Finally after all of the votes are tallied and you tracked down the judges that forgot to vote you can present your scholarship! It worked out well that we could give out the BEST award during the major awards assembly at my old high school. This assembly is at the end of May and is where numerous other scholarships are given out in addition to letters for speech and debate, chess club and a bunch of other awards. I fly back each year to give a speech about the importance of STEM and then present the awards.
The specific way you award your scholarship is again up to you but I've found that being there to talk about the importance of science and technology and as an example to the students has been quite impactful. We will call every group up that successfully submitted a project and give them a check with their participation award and a printed certificate in a fancy document holder. It isn't much for most of the participants but it hopefully motivates them to try to win the bigger main prizes next year!
Rather than going in person to where you are hosting the award you can send a check to the administration to deliver or just mail it directly to the participants! Go with whatever works for your schedule and for your award!
Step 6: Prepare to Give Out Next Years Scholarship(s)!
So after awarding your first STEM scholarship hopefully you are ready to start working on making the next years scholarship even bigger and better! One of the easiest ways to boost the visibility of your scholarship is to create a website to show off the previous years winners and collect future years submissions. The website we created for our awards is: www.isemanfoundation.com We hosted and designed our site in Squarespace but as long as it is a functional website you could use a myriad number of different services for it.
Another really useful thing you can do is form a 501(c)3 non-profit and run your scholarship through this entity rather than doing everything yourself. This was actually a pretty straightforward and not super annoying process that is laid out pretty excellently in Nolo's guide to forming a nonprofit: https://store.nolo.com/products/how-to-form-a-nonp... If you have any questions about it or are confused by the process you can always reach out to a lawyer and hope that they will do a bit of pro bono work to help your nonprofit. This adds a bit of overhead to your yearly operating schedule such as hosting board meetings and establishing board oversight but it also lets your donors file for a corporate match from their employers and all donations are now tax exempt. Paypal giving fund and Gofundme each give different advantages to nonprofits versus private entities.
Finally in addition to giving out a STEM scholarship you can branch out and start offering any number of other scholarships that you feel would be beneficial to students! For the past three years we have also been awarding an Arts scholarship that encourages students to explore their interests related to the fine arts. In this short time we have received novellas, short stories, youtube videos, digital artworks and many more awesome pieces of art!
If you feel that todays educational system would be better if kids were more motivated to pursue music, rock collecting, public service, starting businesses or any thing else start a scholarship that encourages them to purse this! You can be a motivating force for the next generation with just a bit of time and effort!
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